I'm trying to find a single word/term for an individual that puts forth effort only when being observed by management. All other times individual is lazy/useless, but everything changes when the boss is around! Is there a term for this? Thanks!

  • I can think of a number of words to use for such a person, although not in the way you mean.
    – Jessica B
    Dec 18 '15 at 21:24
  • looking a google results there a numerous tips and tricks to do exactly what you describe.
    – Skooba
    Dec 18 '15 at 21:44
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    Brown-nose is used a lot but I don't think it defines this very specific habit.
    – Skooba
    Dec 18 '15 at 21:46
  • Ass-kisser seems like a common term, but I know I've heard something better ...
    – Stu W
    Dec 19 '15 at 1:23

The term for the phenomenon, when you perform better under observation, is Hawthorne effect:

(also referred to as the observer effect) is a type of reactivity in which individuals modify or improve an aspect of their behavior in response to their awareness of being observed. wikipedia

I don't believe there is a succinct single word to define a person who is a slacker but pretends to work hard when the boss is watching. Sycophant and related adjectives come to mind but they are not specific enough.

  • Here is an article titled: The Hawthorne Effect (work faster, the boss is watching!)
    – 0..
    Dec 18 '15 at 21:48
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    So what you would call someone under those effects?
    – Skooba
    Dec 18 '15 at 21:54
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    @ermanen I used one of my painfully acquired rep points to downvote your answer, on two grounds: (1) it is not an answer to the OP's question, which asked for a "term for the person.." as Skooba pointed out (surely you would not call such a person a Hawthorneee ?) (2) The HE doesn't mean getting a single slacker to briefly work when the boss is present. It means a productivity rise overall when some form of attention (not necessarily the presence of the boss) is given to the workers. The productivity rise may not persist, but it is not a spurt that disappears as soon as the boss leaves.
    – ab2
    Dec 18 '15 at 23:26
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    @ermanen I will try one more time. The OP did not ask for the phenomenon. Even if he did, the phenomenon for a single slacker turning into a busy bee for a brief period when the boss is present is not the Hawthorne Effect.
    – ab2
    Dec 19 '15 at 0:38
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    Yes, the effect is known. That's one of the first things that come up in google, but I'm looking for a term defining something completely different - the conscious "show-off" type thing that a slacker would do when observed by someone higher up. Dec 19 '15 at 1:25

If you look up synonyms for phony, you will find

dissembler, dissimulator, hypocrite, phoney, pretender, whited sepulcher. beguiler, cheater, deceiver, trickster, Tartuffe


  • "dissimulator" is an interesting word I did not know, not sure if there is a specific work or effort connotation though. Dec 19 '15 at 1:29
  • None of these terms are specifically work related, and they are often applied to other spheres. You could craft a phrase like closet shirker which would convey an avoidance of effort.
    – bib
    Dec 19 '15 at 2:11

A good hyphenated word for the person you describe is man-pleaser. A man- pleaser is exactly the kind of person you describe. He or she

  • puts forth an effort only when management is present

  • slacks off when management is not present

  • snaps to attention the moment management is present once again

The kind of "work" this person performs could be called "eye-service." In other words, he performs only when management has their eye on him.

A true test of character is whether you work just as hard and conscientiously when you're being observed as when you are not being observed. A man-pleaser would most definitely fail this test!


suck-up and brown-noser are specific, but not too polite.

opportunist is general, but covers this.


Kiss ass

[Urban Free Dictionary]:

A person who will go to many lengths to impress to look impressive, good, and worthy towards persons or groups of higher social standing. This is usually done to ascend in their workplace. In their attempts for higher status and privilege, they will become unguarded and their peers will notice how fake and transparent their attempts are.

Synonyms include brown-noser, yes man, bitch, suck up, teacher's pet, and butt kisser

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